The Poem

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 431

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“The Story of Our Lives” is a 201-line narration divided into seven numbered sections. Although the title suggests a history, the poem plays with the discrepancy between what one would expect in a story and the speaker’s reluctance or inability to share substantial narrative details. To be sure, traditional narrative elements exist: The speaker reveals that the poem takes place in a room that looks out onto a street, and there are characters. The plural pronouns “we” and “our” in the poem hint at a married couple whose life is not so much told as lived, a life upon which the speaker meditates. Another important “character” exists and speaks in the poem: the book that contains the story of their lives from which the poet quotes; fifty-six lines (28 percent of the total) are italicized as coming from this book. In other words, another important tension in the poem lies between the story in the book that the speaker quotes and the story that arises from his own meditations.

The poem’s seven sections suggest an ironic, archetypal period of creation. Although stories usually record past events, this poem, written mostly in the present tense, presents an unfolding of events. Sections 1 and 2 both begin with the line “We are reading the story of our lives.” In the first section, the couple is sitting on the couch reading, “hoping for something/ something like mercy or change.” The first notes of barrenness are sounded: “it would seem/ the book of our lives is empty.” In the second and longest section (forty-six lines), the speaker and the woman continue to read and write (live) the story of their lives as the theme of separation is introduced: “when I lean back I imagine/ my life without you, imagine moving/ into another life, another book.”

A dreamlike mood pervades the third and fourth sections, while a tone of yearning pervades the fifth section in which the speaker says, “If only there were a perfect moment in the book.” Simultaneous with this yearning, however, is a desire to retreat: “Each moment is like a hopeless cause./ If only we could stop reading.” In the sixth and shortest section (sixteen lines), the book chronicles the contradiction between intent and inaction: “They would patch up their lives in secret:// They did nothing.” The final section ends by pointing toward hope as the speaker says “yes to everything” and the book records that “They were determined to accept the truth./ Whatever it was they would accept it./ The book would have to be written/ and would have to be read.

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